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Big History - human origins 1

Guest lecture for Macquarie University 'Big History' 2015

Greg Downey

on 24 March 2015

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Transcript of Big History - human origins 1

how do we get from...
to here?
to here?
The sixth threshold
a(nother) new kind of life
a unique (?) kind of life
the 'symbolic species'
'Otzi' the iceman
(artist's impression)
Anatomically modern human from NE Africa
(artist's impression)
at the start, a fairly unremarkable ape
Homo erectus
(artist's impression)
Ardipithecus ramidus
Pan troglodytes
A. ramidus
Why does this matter?
Our ancestors were not identical to chimpanzees (chimps evolving).
Our ancestors became bipedal very early (chimps & gorillas became quadrupedal).
Early evidence that social & reproductive life not like other apes (themselves diverse).
Last common ancestor
Had a new threshold been crossed yet?
Australopithecus afarensis
But was there something distinctive about this ape?
Bipedal (does this affect its niche?)
Decreased sexual competition OR new forms of competition? (emotional modernity?)
Highly conservative but more advanced tool use. (later)
Homo ergaster/Homo erectus
the 'invasive ape'
increasingly invasive & adaptable
developing a 'cultural kit'
How is this happening?
releasing constraint (energy, diet)
gaining advantage (what's pay-off?)
Homo sapiens
niche construction
megafaunal extinction
firestick farming
decreased predation
DNA passed on
typical model of evolution through natural selection
changed environment
passed on
evolution with natural selection & niche change
(also cultural inheritance)
Emotional modernity
Not just logic from bigger brain, but greater self control.
Human patterns of food sharing, co-parenting, social life & teamwork.
Essential for learning, cooperation, strategy, & rapid reproduction.
children competing for attention in group
great ape abilities, distinctive generalized capacities, increasing neurological resources.
hyper-sociability, diverse environment & growing niche construction.
Goldilocks condition:
constraints removed & increasing payoff for cognitive abilities.
Emergent properties:
collective & cumulative learning, new forms of thought & memory (David will discuss).
Thanks for your attention!

Anth 151: Human evolution & diversity
delayed maturation
Full transcript